Vol I No. 7
Daily Thought

Other Creatures and the Last End

by William J. Martin



Whether other creatures concur in that last end?


Objection 1: It would seem that all other creatures concur in man’s last end. For the end corresponds to the beginning. But man’s beginning—i.e. God—is also the beginning of all else. Therefore all other things concur in man’s last end.


God is the beginning of all creation. By ‘beginning’ we mean the First Cause, Origin, Source, or Mover of all that is other than Himself. God makes time and space; He fills it with all manner of created life, beginning with what is at the furthest remove from His nature by reason of its elemental simplicity and then out of it forming and molding creatures that are progressively like Him. He begins with the elements, he particularizes them, and slowly but surely He brings them together into creatures that imitate Him on levels that are better that what preceded them and less perfect than those who follow. A rock is less like God than a potato, a potato than a cat, a cat than a man. So because all things come from God, it would be logical to say that all creatures return to Him also as to their end.


Objection 2: Further, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that “God turns all things to Himself as to their last end.” But He is also man’s last end; because He alone is to be enjoyed by man, as Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. i, 5,22). Therefore other things, too, concur in man’s last end.


All things are caused by God and all things are informed by God. Each creature’s respective meaning returns to God as it pursues its end and actualizes its potential form. God as the Final End is the nature that all things imitate, according to the laws of their respective essences. So each particular in creation reveals or manifests the vestiges and traces of the Maker’s Hand in his being. But even more than for themselves, other creatures assist in man’s return to God through his thinking and understanding of them. Man’s knowledge of other creatures helps him to learn about himself and to assist him in his journey back to God. Because they assist man perhaps they too shall take their place in the return of the whole creation to God.


Objection 3: Further, man’s last end is the object of the will. But the object of the will is the universal good, which is the end of all. Therefore other things, too, concur in man’s last end.


The universal good includes more than man. All creation is seen as serving the universal good of God’s being. Since all other things combine to assist man in the universal goodness of the creation, all other things will concur in man’s last end. It would seem that without them, man would be incomplete. Or perhaps without them, the goodness of creation would remain unreconciled to God.


On the contrary, man’s last end is happiness; which all men desire, as Augustine says (De Trin. xiii, 3,4). But “happiness is not possible for animals bereft of reason,” as Augustine says (QQ. 83, qu. 5). Therefore other things do not concur in man’s last end.


Animals, plants, rocks, and elements do not possess reason. They cannot come to know the good. To will the good one must know it, at least in its general outline. Only angels and men can know the good. So only angels can cleave to the good or reject. Only man can be born again. Therefore only angels and men inhabit the Kingdom of God potentially.


I answer that, As the Philosopher says (Phys. ii, 2), the end is twofold—the end “for which” and the end “by which”; viz. the thing itself in which is found the aspect of good, and the use or acquisition of that thing. Thus we say that the end of the movement of a weighty body is either a lower place as “thing,” or to be in a lower place, as “use”; and the end of the miser is money as “thing,” or possession of money as “use.”If, therefore, we speak of man’s last end as of the thing which is the end, thus all other things concur in man’s last end, since God is the last end of man and of all other things.


God as the end of all things is that ‘for which’ they are made and to which they tend according to their respective imitations of the Divine nature. Created things imitate God to a degree by laws written into their natures. The power by which they imitate Him is present to them as that which enables them to realize or perfect their natures. Thus laws govern elements, rocks, plants, and animals. Rocks, plants, and animals follow laws without any developed self-consciousness. Even the beasts, who have a form of self-consciousness that is greater than inferior creatures, are limited to an instinctual relation to the environment around them. None of these creatures can reason beyond sense perception in a the world that is the source of either their pain or pleasure. None of these creatures can will the good in order to obtain happiness. They may aid man in his pursuit of this end but only accidentally and in so far as they better enable him to find the leisure to love God and his fellow man. 


If, however, we speak of man’s last end, as of the acquisition of the end, then irrational creatures do not concur with man in this end. For man and other rational creatures attain to their last end by knowing and loving God: this is not possible to other creatures, which acquire their last end, in so far as they share in the Divine likeness, inasmuch as they are, or live, or even know. Hence it is evident how the

objections are solved: since happiness means the acquisition of the last end.


Creatures do not come to know or love God. They come to imitate God without reason or free will. Their imitation of God does not transcend the level of sensation and thus they cannot acquire more than a brutish instinctual relation to their environments. Human beings who have imagined that brute beasts are on a level with man have perverted their understanding of their final end and instead of pursuing the love of God in the love of their neighbors are in danger of exaggerating their own brutish instincts. This error, though common to man in the post-modern age, will avail him of nothing when on Judgment Day he is unable to reveal love for his fellow man. Creatures other than men and angels cannot be born again. If we are to be born again, we must learn to sow seeds for the Kingdom in the hearts of our fellow human beings. Our first desire must be for the salvation of our neighbours. For it is relation to them that we shall have shown if we have known and loved God or not.